Periods or menstruation are a natural phenomenon that is often surrounded by stigma and taboos. People hush around the topic of periods. However, there are certain communities and cultures across the world and India that celebrate the start of periods. The coming of age ceremony takes place after menarche or the first menstruation. In these communities, the menstruating person undergoes rituals. People rejoice the beginning of fertile period with grandeur.
In India, the ritual called Langa Voni or half Sari function in Telugu takes shape. Tamils term it as Pavadai Dhavani, while in Kannada it is Langa Davani. The girl after her first periods becomes a young woman after this point in their eyes. The Ritu Kala Samskara or Ritusuddhi, as termed in South India is observed by the girl’s family and friends. While rituals and ceremonies differ from community to community, the celebration marks the transition of a girl towards womanhood. The celebration has a history of meaning to convey the girl that she has reached a ‘marriageable age’ and is being looked for a ‘potential suitor’. So basically, the girl’s fertile period decided her marriage timing.
Manjal Neeratti/ Neerattu Vizha: The Turmeric Bathing Ceremony
The grand affair observed in parts of Tamil Nadu is quite a big deal. Friends, neighbours and relatives come to celebrate the girl’s entry into womanhood. Even hoardings and boards with the girl’s cut out represent the grandeur of the celebration. The girl’s uncle builds a ‘Kudisal’ or hut, of coconut, mango and neem leaves. Men cannot come inside the Kudisal, and after the girl bathes in turmeric water, she supposedly stays inside it. Garbed in silk saree , adorned with jewellery, people offer delicacies to the girl inside the hut.
The superstitions however do not leave these celebrations. Leftover from the girls food should not go to dogs as it is ‘thought’ that it may cause stomach ache. Also the society bans the girl from entering the temple. On the 9th, 11th and 15th day, ‘Punya Dhanam’ concludes the function. They remove the ‘kudisal’ and the priest performs a ‘purification’ of the house. In certain parts of Bangalore, the mother cannot meet the menstruating daughter.
Performed in certain parts of the state of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana on the 1st, 5th and last day of a girl’s periods. The rite called ‘mangal snan’ where 5 women bathe the girl takes place. The girl abstains from roaming around and stays in a separate room and uses separate utensils and mattress. She gets nutritious food during these days. The last day concludes with gifts from the uncle including saree, jewellery and other utilities.
The Assamese tradition involves the girl observing her first periods to stay in a single room for a period of 4 to 7 days. Turmeric paste is applied all over the girl’s body and a ceremonial bath is performed on the 4th day. People observe a fast with the same ceremonies on the 7th day. The girl then receives gifts and blessings from the invitees.
In Kerala, the family isolates the girl on the first three days of her fertile period. An oil lamp is the only light available in the separate chamber. Flowers stick inside a water filled bronze vessel. The argument behind this tradition is that the girl would bear as many off springs as the tender coconuts on the flowers.
Special Mention: The Bleeding Goddess
The Ambubachi Mela celebrates the annual menstruation of goddess Kamakhya every year. The festival takes place in Guwahati, Assam during the monsoon season. The presiding goddess Kamakhya goes through her annual menstrual cycle during this period. The fair closely represents Tantric cult. The other names are Ameti or Tantric fertility festival. The 4 days affair attracts devotees and tantrics from all over.
These celebrations involve much pomp and show and welcome the bleeding person’s transition. But people still refrain from discussing about it. Many of these celebrations still come under age old superstitions and prohibitions. The society sees people who bleed as impure, sick and so they remain in seclusion. Seclusion can take a mental and emotional toll on someone while already undergoing physical and hormonal changes. In times when South India leads the example of celebrations around fertility periods, barring women of menstruating age in the Sabrimala still remains a big question.